Sydney by Rock Tour Bus
Hello. I’m taking you on a tour through my mind’s charter bus, to give you one very specific, highly limited visitor’s vision of Sydney. My vision of Sydney is signposted by rock venues. Some of them existing, some of them but a memory. If you’ll indulge me, hop on the mental tour bus (is there any other kind?) and enjoy the ride. It’ll be loud, smelly, and your feet will stick to the carpet. Beats Sydney Tower any day.
Sydney has had its fair share of iconic rock venues over the years. I was lucky enough to play at the Hordern Pavillion as part of the Big Day Out. A big, noisy crowd in that place sends tingles up your nether regions, but that wasn’t its chief thrill, I must admit. Like Melbourne’s Festival Hall and Brisbane’s (sadly demolished) similar version, all of which I have spent quality time cavorting around, there’s excitement to be had just traipsing around the backstage corridors taking in the antiquated structures, the original hand-painted lettering on the toilet doors, and reminding yourself that these corridors were walked by The Beatles, the Stones, Lionel Rose, hell, I bet even the Pope played here.
Sydney also has slightly smaller, but equally famous rock tour bus landmarks. I was sorry I was too young to experience the Bondi Lifesaver, that mythical place called “The Swap” I’d read about in the pages of the long-forgotten national rock magazine “Ram”. I did, however, get to play at Selinas, another name which you’d see on every national touring band’s itinerary. My chief memory of Selinas was its tardis-like ability to accommodate the population of a small nation inside its apparently unobtrusive RSL-like interior. Oh, and the memory of one of my colleagues hanging helplessly from a lighting rig way up in the ceiling and then plopping into the heaving crowd like that lawyer chained to a sea-bound rangehood in Blue Murder.
However, it is one other place in Sydney that has, for me, achieved a milestone in tour bus appreciation: my favourite all-time venue.
I’m talking about The Metro Theatre. Or these days officially known as The Virgin Mobile Metro. Just three minutes from Town Hall station along George Street and you’ll find it there, a theatre with a rich history, but since the early 90s, in my memory at least, the best rock venue in Australia. This extraordinarily ham-fisted claim is made from both the point of view of the performer and the audience, of which I have been both.
The Metro – like Melbourne’s Forum – combines olde worlde theatre design, in particular an excellent foyer bar with a wide, ostentatious carpeted stairway so you feel like you’re really going to a ‘show’. And then there’s the room itself, which for me seals the reputation.
The Metro is my venue of choice because it’s just the right size for a rock gig. It holds around a thousand, which is, when packed, enough to create a serious rock crowd noise – but is small enough to see the whites of the protagonists’ eyes – be that performer or stage diver – and incorporates a steeply sloping theatre design with sound-friendly carpet and football-terrace-like handrails so you can stand (the only way to truly experience rock music) but not uncomfortably or asphixiatingly so. It’s comfortable, loud and you can see from every vantage point, unless you are as tall as Kylie Minogue. How many rock venues truly achieve this balance of luxury and loucheness?